by Jacob Shapiro
The internet sure loves muckraking, so when I decided to throw some shade at Marvel for their ComicsPro presentation in Portland last week, Comics Twitter lit me up. Reflecting back on Marvel’s strangely combative tone, I ask myself: why are we all really here at this industry summit?
Marvel’s official logic for their security guards and closed doors last Thursday was that they wanted to make this event worthwhile for us, the retailers—we’ve paid hundreds of dollars for registration, travel, and lodging, so what’s the point if everything they tell us is freely available online within a couple days? Marvel reps wanted us to feel we’d gotten our money’s worth.
But looking back, I think they’ve got it a bit wrong. The value we gain from attending ComicsPro isn’t from getting the Big Scoop. The Big Scoop is always going to show up online within 48 hours. The value I get from ComicsPro is from engaging with publishers, creators, and fellow retailers in dialogue to help build our industry. Most comic shops are small businesses with little in the way of standard practice, so coming together once a year to talk things through is integral to keeping our industry alive—especially after the disaster that was 2017, comic shops are looking for ways to fix things so we can all keep our jobs.
DC Comics provided a stark contrast—senior VP of sales John Cunningham is one of the most charismatic, brutally honest folks in the industry. DC’s presentation included a few announcements (their sweeping line of YA graphic novels were a huge highlight), but the meat of their presence at the show was explaining their business plan for 2018, how it applies to retailers, and the thought behind each decision. It’s exactly what I want to hear. DC has long had a reputation of superior retailer engagement to Marvel’s, and this year was no exception. The retailers feel heard, and even in DC’s choices that we may disagree with, Cunningham laid out their reasoning in a way I could respect. On the other end, Marvel fumbled their way through telling us that their predatory “meet or exceed” variant ordering requirements aren’t going away anytime soon.
I’m not trying to take sides. On a personal level, I’m not much of a superhero comics guy, but the North American comics industry is built on the backs of the Big Two, so I want both companies to succeed so shops across the continent can stay in business.
Lost in the Marvel vs. DC debate is Image Comics, an integral part of the mainstream comics ecosystem that’s hit a dip in the last few years. Eric Stephenson said at his Image Expo address on Wednesday that last year was the publisher’s best yet, but we’re still waiting on the next colossal Saga or The Wicked + the Divine-sized phenomenon from them. Of course, Image being Image, it’s difficult to pin down their “direction” as a publisher since their content is dictated entirely by the creators. But there were glimmers of hope this year! I was particularly impressed with their slate of announcements, and unlike past years, nearly all the books announced are on the way in the next few months.
From Jen Bartel’s interior comics debut in Blackbird to J.H. Williams’ Image Comics coronation Echolands, it was exactly the kind of comics you’d like to see announced at an event like this. Lost in the hype was a subtle push by Image towards more work by cartoonists—that is to say, work by a single writer/artist rather than a duo of writer and artist. By my count, there were six books announced at Image Expo by singular writer/artists: Michel Fiffe’s Bloodstrike Brutalists, Annie Wu’s Dead Guy Fan Club, Rob Guillory’s Farmhand, Farel Dalrymple’s Proxima Centauri, Dean Haspiel’s The Red Hook, and Mirka Andolfo’s Unnatural. For Wu, Guillory, and Andolfo, this will be their first-ever longform mainstream comics published without someone else handling the writing; I don’t remember the last time Image had this many books by singular cartoonists happening at once. Not that there’s anything wrong with writers, but I appreciate Image’s attempt to disrupt the writer-centric American comics ecosystem a little with this, and I hope it succeeds.
I don’t think we SOLVED COMICS last week at ComicsPro—it’s a weird, broken, archaic industry. 2017 wasn’t just an awful year for comics; it was an awful year outside comics too, and we can’t exist in a vacuum. But speaking with my colleagues at other shops across the world, along with the people working at the publishers and the folks making the comics, we’re all humans just trying to pay rent. So I’ve got some hope 2018 will be a little better.